Kayaking Around Fishers Island - This Time Without Capsizing

The tide had just begun to flood as we four kayakers scooted past Wilderness Point on the south shore of Fishers Island the other day, and I began angling my boat toward a sandy beach for a short rest before tackling the most challenging section of our 18.5-mile island circumnavigation: the infamous Race.

This reef, the site of countless shipwrecks, can produce huge, confused seas in a swirling, chaotic mess of slop and chop in the right (or wrong) conditions.

We had already covered more than 12 miles without a break from our starting point at Esker Point Beach in Noank, and I looked forward to climbing out of the cramped cockpit, stretching my legs, gobbling a sandwich and steeling my nerves.

The irrepressible and indefatigable Phil Warner, though, paddling to my port, had another plan.

"Let's paddle around Race Rock!" he called.

This detour would add only a few hundred yards, but it would also put us farther out into rapidly intensifying currents. Not waiting for a reply, Phil, who lives in Hampden, Mass., aimed toward the stone lighthouse perched on a rocky island just off the western tip of Fishers, followed by Robin Francis of Wallingford, one of Connecticut's top women paddlers, and Ian Frenkel of Old Saybrook, for whom too much paddling is never enough. All of us have raced with and against one another for years.

"Six-point-eight!" Phil shouted, staring at a deck-mounted GPS that recorded not just our position but also our speed. That meant the tide was pushing us along at a pretty good clip — and also that it would be steadily slowing us down as soon as we steered toward home.

We weaved and bobbed past dozens of fishing boats anchored just outside The Race, circled the lighthouse and then pivoted toward the Connecticut shore.

"Here it comes!" Phil said excitedly, watching the waves grow a couple of feet higher. He is among those crazed kayakers who seek out rough water for surfing and practicing high braces.

I would have been just as happy to paddle in calm seas, but at this point we had no choice: The last leg back to Esker Point, cutting between North and South Dumpling, would be a bumpy ride.

"You doing all right?" Phil called over to me.

"Great," I replied. "Better than last time."

Although I've paddled around Fishers dozens of times over the years, last summer I flipped in rough water on the Atlantic Ocean side, and Phil had to help me get back in the boat. I was determined to redeem myself. I also had enough sense to switch to a more stable, but slower, boat for this outing.

A few minutes later the drone of a powerboat engine reverberated behind me.

I shot a look over my shoulder and saw the runabout bearing down on us. Fifty yards away, it slowed and then pulled alongside.

"Hey, Steve!"

It was my old buddy Jim Roy of Mystic, out fishing with his son, Jeff.

We chatted for a minute, and then they shot off toward Noank. Their trip back would take about 10 minutes; with aggressive paddling it would take us another hour.

The seas kicked up a bit more near the spindle off Groton Long Point, as they always do, but once we ducked into the lee of Palmer Cove the wind and tide worked in unison to propel us back to the launch site at Esker.

"A perfect paddle!" Phil exulted.

I agreed. "An ocean paddle is like a plane landing. Any one you can walk away from is a good one."

Never satisfied, Ian practiced Eskimo rolls and high braces before pulling his boat ashore.

Phil checked his watch. It had taken us about four hours – not exactly a leisurely pace, but certainly not pushing it.

"You know, Dave Grainger says he has the unofficial record for kayaking around Fishers: 2:56," Phil said, referring to a paddler from Plainville who has won many of the top races in the region. "I'm pretty sure we can beat it."

And so, in a few weeks, weather permitting, the four of us plan to return to Fishers. Robin and I will paddle a tandem kayak as the support boat, and Phil and Ian will paddle fast singles in hopes of breaking the mark.

I'll keep you posted.

Reader Comments

MORE BLOGS

Two's Company, Three Hundred's A Crowd – On The Trail Or On A Sidewalk

While kayaking the 341-mile Erie Canal from Buffalo to Albany a few years ago I spotted another paddler a mile or so away headed in my direction. Having encountered only one or two other kayaks nearly a week into what turned out to be an...

Wouldn't It Be Wonderful To Hibernate?

When I pried a rock up with a mattock the other day, rushing to finish a small retaining wall before the ground froze, I inadvertently disturbed a hibernating spotted salamander’s winter home.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Cheap Fuel And Gas-Guzzlers!

Isn’t life great?! Gas is so cheap now I can get rid of my puny, poky, fuel-efficient econobox and get behind the wheel of an auto with plenty of ponies under the hood that any American would be proud to drive, just like the good...

Siri To The Rescue!

"Siri, how much farther to the summit?"

A-hunting We Will Go

Blam! Blam! Blam!

Urban Excursions: Finding Adventure In The Big City

A brisk autumn breeze scattered crimson maple leaves that fluttered from trees lining a pond glittering in the morning sun as my friend Bob Graham and I loped along a narrow path the other morning.

My Friend The Log Splitter: Leaf Blowers Notwithstanding, Not All Machines Are Evil

After my overwhelming victory last year in a rake vs. leafblower contest I hoped I’d heard the last of those infernal, noisy, polluting contraptions — but while out for a run the other day, savoring the fall foliage, a familiar whine as...

Welcome To Steve's Lumberjack Camp

Good morning! I hope you all had a good night’s sleep, enjoyed the griddle cakes and are eager to work off those calories.

At Nayaug Canoe And Kayak Race, A Win Is A Win Is A Win — Sort Of

Race starts are notoriously adventurous — jackrabbits at the line itching to shove and elbow their way into the lead; clueless slowpokes poised for pileups; nerve-jangled competitors, fueled by surging adrenaline, chattering...

Rocks In My Head, Part 37,482

Descending New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in a blizzard some time ago, a friend and I briefly strayed from the ice-encrusted Lion Head Trail – not all that surprising considering wind-whipped snow reduced our visibility to...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

How to freeze your - - - off in four easy steps

I know you’ll find this rather shocking, but all those white things in the new picture of me aren’t really snowflakes – they’re feathers from an old pillow, which we thought would be a clever way to illustrate a...

Hey, Unless Your Head Is Made Of Cement, Wear A Bike Helmet!

Last Saturday was glorious, perhaps the last sunny, warm day of the season, so a couple friends and I set out for a 50-plus-mile ride on Rhode Island’s magnificent East Bay Bike Path, one of my favorite places to pedal.

Forget San Juan Capistrano – If You Want to See Hundreds of Thousands of Swallows, Check Out the Lower Connecticut River

Like the first snowflakes of an approaching blizzard, a small flurry of tiny birds flitted across the slow-moving water of the Connecticut River earlier this week, just as the sun began to dip below the western bank in Old Saybrook.